Monday, March 26, 2007

Face-to-face meeting bridges N. Ireland's divide...

The two opposing parties whose conflict fueled decades of violence in Northern Ireland met face-to-face for the first time today and agreed to enter a power-sharing government on May 8.

The Guardian (UK) reports on the response of Tony Blair as follows:

"Tony Blair has described today's deal to restore Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration as the historic culmination of 10 years of work.

Mr Blair said the agreement between Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams was "a very important day for the people of Northern Ireland".

"In a sense, everything we have done over the last 10 years has been a preparation for this moment, because the people of Northern Ireland have spoken through the election," he added.
"They have said we want peace and power-sharing, and the political leadership has then come in behind that and said we will deliver what people want."

Mr Blair said today's deal would "mean ... people can come together, respecting each other's point of view and share power and make sure politics is only expressed through peaceful and democratic means".

"It will give the people of Northern Ireland the future they want and give heart to all of us who have wanted this process over the past few years," he said.

"Now, at last, we have a date certain for the devolution of power and a remarkable coming together of people who have, for very obvious reasons, been strongly opposed in the past."

Mr Blair - who helped bring about power-sharing early in his first term through the 1998 Good Friday agreement - is widely believed to be extremely keen to see a permanent deal reached before he leaves office this summer.

However, he refused to speculate as to what might happen, saying: "The important thing for the moment is to take what has happened now and to see it through, and that's what we will do."

Postscript: I consider these latest developments to be very good news. As recently as yesterday one person familiar with the situation in Northern Ireland had told me that the deal would fall through.